Wally Hall Sprinkles Gas on Combustible Bobby Petrino-Jimbo Fisher Question

Wally Hall, Bobby Petrino, Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M football
photo credit: YouTube/David Bazzel / Nick Wenger / Texas A&M Athletics

As the Texas A&M goes, so does the Arkansas football season. Since 1988, in the seasons that Arkansas and Texas A&M have played (1988-1991; 2009-present), the Razorbacks have won 9 or more games five times.

In each of those seasons – 1988, 1989, 2010, 2011 and 2021 – the Hogs beat the Aggies.

If Arkansas loses its early conference season bout with the Aggies, history says it’s a near lock that the program won’t top 8 wins that year. In short, this game more than others can tilt the scales from an average year to a good, or even very good, one.

This season’s Week 5 Arkansas vs Texas A&M showdown brings significant extra spice with it. First, both teams will be seeking redemption in Arlington.

For Arkansas, the reasoning is clear enough: the Hogs’ first loss last season came at the hands of the Aggies, an aggravating 23-21 setback that swung on a strip and score off what appeared to be a surefire KJ Jefferson touchdown:

That ended up being the first of a rash of close games that Arkansas would lose in 2023, something Sam Pittman has sworn he’ll remedy this season with renewed focus on physicality helped by an infusion of new staff including the first change: strength & conditioning coach.

For Texas A&M, that Arkansas represented a last gasp before plummeting into six straight losses and a season that ended at 5-7, with only two SEC wins in all.

“I’m still pissed off… We’ve got a chip on our shoulder,” Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher recently said. “You don’t forget. You learn from it, and then you don’t let it happen again.”

To that end, he’s taken what is widely considered the biggest gamble among SEC coaching hires this offseason by bringing aboard Bobby Petrino as his offensive coordinator. Petrino, whose Razorback teams beat Texas A&M three consecutive times 2009-2011, is still one of the best offensive minds in the business and proved that to Arkansas fans by walking into Fayetteville in Week 3 of last season with an FCS team and nearly leaving with a victory.

Throughout his coaching career, Petrino’s offenses have averaged at least 400 yards in 16-of-20 seasons and 30 points per game in 15 seasons, while his teams have eclipsed the 500-yard and 40-point thresholds five and three times, as Yahoo’s Pete Hernandez points out.

Those numbers counter the longstanding perception that Bobby Petrino is “a punchline because of the Harley incident at Arkansas,” as Paul Finebaum put it on the ESPN College Football video below.

“But he coached Lamar Jackson. Twelve years ago, he was the second-best coach in the SEC behind Saban. I mean, he was rolling. And it doesn’t matter anymore that he’s a bad guy… there are a lot of bad guys in every sport, but he is going to help that program.”

Questions about Bobby Petrino and Jimbo Fisher

Last year’s fiasco aside, Fisher is no slouch, either, when it comes to offensive game-planning and quarterback development. There was no way he wins a national title at Florida State with Jameis Winston if he wasn’t. How he gets along with Petrino in the heat of the moment, and the extent to which they get on the same page when coaching presumed starter Conner Weigman, are big question marks entering the season.

“If they’re melding on a really great level working together, I think it could be unbelievable because you have two great minds feeding off of each other,” former SEC head coach Dan Mullen said on ESPN’s The Matt Barrie Show. Then Mullen throws out the possibility all Arkansas football fans are praying for: “If the system doesn’t fit together and it’s ‘Bobby wants to run these plays and Jimbo wants to run these plays over here,’ now you’re completely bipolar and it’s a complete mess.”

As an example of a dynamic not going well involving a former head coach becoming a coordinator, Mullen alluded to Lane Kiffin’s three seasons under Nick Saban orchestrating the Alabama offense. It featured this all-time Hallmark card moment:

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But, in that situation, at least Kiffin lasted almost three season and the two coaches’ strengths were clearly split between offense and defense.

Wally Hall, the long-time Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports editor, likens the combustible potential of Fisher and Petrino to the most infamous parallel in Arkansas football history – offensive wunderkind Gus Malzahn’s ill-fated one-year stint under Houston Nutt in 2006.

Former athletic director “Frank Broyles insisted then-head coach Houston Nutt hire Gus Malzahn and give him control of the offense,” Hall wrote in a recent column. “Nutt was not ready to stop calling the plays, but Broyles was also not used to hearing no from his coaches.”

“It wasn’t a disaster season as the Razorbacks went 10-4, but it was a dysfunctional season that divided the fan base.”

Wally Hall’s Outlook on Texas A&M Football

Hall doesn’t appear to see the Bobby Petrino-Jimbo Fisher experiment lasting too long based on what he saw during the SEC Media Days in July.

There, he saw Fisher fail to fully quash rumors that he and Petrino have already locked horns on coaching philosophy and tactics.

At the event in Nashville, Fisher said: “As coaches — have you ever been in any staff room that doesn’t have arguments or disagreements? Every coaching staff in America has an argument or a disagreement. That’s part of it.”

In Hall’s opinion, such an equivocating answer seems “to indicate someone had an argument.”

Wally Hall also points out Fisher doesn’t seem ready to totally hand over the playcalling reins over to Petrino when he said “We’ll do everything” but “we’re not going to get into” the four-wide sets and schematics that Petrino prefers.

“The dagger to the heart of the matter was when Fisher said, ‘Hopefully, he’ll call the game. Every coach is always involved,’ Hall wrote in the Democrat-Gazette last week.

“What this appears to be is a battle of Fisher’s ego with Petrino’s desire to win.”

Texas A&M Football: More Tea Leaves

Hall has seen head coaches and coordinators do their various dances with each other, dysfunctional and functional, since becoming a sports columnist in 1979. He’s seen plenty come and go, flourish or not. Reading between the lines of his column, he’s not optimistic that Jimbo Fisher and Bobby Petrino make it into 2024 together: “The money line is Petrino will make one season, but he’ll have packing boxes before the season ends.”

There are other money lines out there, too. For instance, a few sportsbooks list Texas A&M’s win total coming into the season at 7.5. Texas A&M football is tied with Arkansas and Ole Miss for the fifth-highest win total line in the SEC. Almost every sportbook, by the way, offers welcome bonuses through promo codes. Use SportsbookPromo.com to decide which one is best suited for you.

Since SEC Media Days, Fisher has insisted all his honky-dory with Petrino but Arkansas fans are hoping the cracks will seep in sooner than later. Especially considering this year’s Texas A&M game comes on the heels of an SEC opener on the road against a loaded LSU squad that could very well be in the Top 10 by then.

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